Arthur Melbourne-Cooper pioneer film maker

A true pioneer of early British filmmaking, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper began his life in pictures at his father's photographic business in the Hertfordshire cathedral city of St Albans. Keen to branch out into moving images, he first joined the firm of fellow pioneer Birt Acres for whom he worked as a camera operator, before establishing his own studios in St Albans.

Between 1896 and 1915, Melbourne-Cooper made approximately 300 films, mostly for his own Alpha Trading Company (1901-1915) and in two joint ventures with semi-retired naval officer Andrew Heron, Kinema Industries and Heron Films. Melbourne-Cooper's output ranged from actualities and topicals to industrial documentaries and live-action comedy and drama, but he is perhaps best known for his pioneering use of stop-motion animation.

During the First World War, Melbourne-Cooper became a munitions inspector in Bedfordshire, followed by a move with his family to Blackpool, where he managed a department of an advertising agency, making a number of animated advertisements. Following his retirement in 1940, Melbourne-Cooper moved to Cambridgeshire where he died in 1961.

The following films represent a small selection of Arthur Melbourne-Cooper's broad output. Like much of early cinema, a large percentage of Melbourne-Cooper's work has been lost to the ravages of time, but the East Anglian Film Archive holds a range of other titles attributed to this Hertfordshire film pioneer.

Cat no. 2088

Animated Matches Playing Cricket

Running time0:53 Black & White Silent 1899 St Albans, Hertfordshire

A group of matchstick men play a game of cricket in this stop-motion animation produced to promote Bryant & May brand matches.

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Cat no. 215258

Matches Appeal

Running time0:52 Black & White Silent 1899

Melbourne-Cooper expands on his animated matches theme for this appeal by Bryant & May for donations to allow the supply of matches to British soldiers serving overseas.

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Cat no. 215250

Policeman Beaten

Running time2:00 Black & White Silent c.1900

A comedy of infidelity made for the Alpha Trading Company.

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Cat no. 215261

MacNab's Visit to London

Running time4:44 Black & White Silent 1905

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper takes an on-screen role as a golf-crazed Scotsman whose obsession causes mayhem in the gentile home of his southern cousins.

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Cat no. 225333

The Empire's Money Maker

Running time5:00 Silent c.1905 City of London

Melbourne-Cooper takes his camera inside the Royal Mint, providing a unique insight into the manufacture of coinage and producing one of the earliest 'available-light' documentaries, shooting indoors without additional artificial lighting.

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Cat no. 7594

Motor Pirates

Running time8:01 Black & White Silent 1906 St. Albans, Hertfordshire

Two rogues in an armoured car terrorize the quaint country lanes of Hertfordshire, stealing chickens and sparking gunfire, explosions and a chase involving a gang of inept policemen.

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Cat no. 1893

A Dream of Toyland

Running time5:31 Black & White Silent 1907 St Albans, Hertfordshire

Blending live action and stop-motion animation, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper's most renowned film features a boy dreaming about his toys, which burst into life and fill the city with chaos and calamity.

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Cat no. 215265

Road Hogs in Toyland

Running time5:06 Black & White Silent 1911

Melbourne-Cooper combines two of his key cinematic obsessions, dangerous driving and stop-motion animation, in this return to the chaotic world of Toyland where a gang of men take their racing cars onto open roads.

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Cat no. 215257

The Manufacture of Walking Sticks

Running time5:55 Black & White Silent 1912 London

One of a series of documentaries produced for Heron Films in which Melbourne-Cooper visits the Henry Howell & Co. factory in London to observe the manufacture of walking sticks.

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Cat no. 215269

The Life of a Racing Pigeon

Running time7:36 Black & White Silent 1912

Also produced for Heron Films, this documentary traces the life of racing pigeons from hatchlings to fully trained racers, and was produced with the assistance of The Racing Pigeon magazine.

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